Waje Isn’t Poor, She Just Wants You To Listen
In spite of all the daily trauma that Nigerians face, they are a compassion bunch. You could see it everywhere around you, albeit in isolated doses. Beggars always end the night with enough to eat, communities with challenges being empowered by well-meaning individuals and NGOs, and charity campaigns for people battling life-threatening illnesses and more.
That’s why the uproar over Waje wasn’t surprising. The veteran singer was featured in a video clip, which showed her expressing her frustrations with the music business as a viable income earner for her. In that clip, she explains that her music hasn’t been patronized, and whatever funds she has in her account, has to split and deployed in solving her personal needs, rather than feed it into the black hole that music has become for many people.
In the viral video, Waje said, “After everybody shouted ‘Waje, your last album was how many years ago, please we need an album’. Where are all the people that were shouting? “I don’t have the money for publicity and that’s what I am saying. Emerald’s (her daughter) school fee is there. It’s like I have ten things laid out for me and every single time, its always been my music, my music that is taking the bulk of my money. I am not willing to put money there anymore,” she said.
That outburst touched people. It’s a heart-breaking sight to see a luminary of Nigerian music publicly complain about finances. Keyword: ‘Publicly.” Working in the music industry has shown me time and again that the popular musicians who appear to be successful have money problems too. Many are in the red as businesses, pushing themselves past each day by living hand to mouth. It’s an industry where there’s systemic chaos. This disorder hurts the entire space by degrading multiple sources of income for talents. Digital sales have steadily grown over the past 5 years, but artists still depend heavily on lump sums paid as performance fees.
What this means is that only the most popular musicians make enough as a business to make a profit. Beyond the A-listers, and some B-list stars, you would find a lot of struggling artists hustling from end to end for investment. It doesn’t help that every year, the value of the Naira attempts to jump off a clip, and inflation is a menace. The music business at the mainstream level is capital intensive. It demands so much, and often gives so little as a return.
Waje’s case is different. She’s a veteran musician. She’s had brighter days, dominating the industry as one of the vocal powerhouses of the Nigerian scene. Fun fact: Her vocal range covers three octaves. She puts it all on display at her live performances. And trust me; it’s magical to experience it. In 2018, her sophomore album, “Red Velvet,” was released. It is her second full-length project in 10 years. But it failed to spark. The project was announced and seeded into the market, complete with an artsy listening session. People weren’t biting that bullet, Waje’s project came and went.
This isn’t because they are not in love with her. People adore and respect her. But more like how you treat an OG. You respect them; you point to them as bastions of the culture, and hold them on a pedestal. But you aren’t actively seeking new music from them. They’ve served you for a time and season, enough to snatch a permanent space in your heart. But the law of marginal utility came early. You don’t want to listen any more. That’s why there’s a twinge of guilt in the air when she said nobody listened to her album. It’s Waje na, our darling singing wonder woman. Why aren’t you listening to her album? Oh gosh!
That guilt drove people to misconstrue her message. Many people understood Waje’s message as a cry emanating from absolute poverty. They began to gather their collective pities, in handplates made from ignorance, and wrongfully channelled a deluge of well-intentioned negativity her way. She isn’t poor. She just doesn’t want to lose her money. She’s lives good, eats good, drives good, and her daughter, Emerald is comparatively balling. The quality of life over there is good. Poverty is distant.
All of that pity is an effort at futility. She is good. But she can be better if you just stream her music. Her album “Red Velvet,” is a sincere project. You get to connect with her in many ways as she takes you through love that could be as sweet as cake, but also plunge you into bitterness. It’s a polarizing project, which critics have failed to agree on how to collectively rate it. Many didn’t even listen to it.
Yes. Waje needs her music to work again. But she also has to understand that much of the work that goes into moving from this point to the point where her product flips is solely on her shoulders. Loosen her hair, catch a lamba, and drop a jam. Ballads are amazing. But the soul of the Nigerian music enthusiast is beyond substance. Does it move them? Yes? Then let them have it. If you don’t give them, how therefore will the people of gbedu collect? She has to tweak the current formula somehow. It’s isn’t winning at all.With the uproar and outpour of concern, hopefully her team finds a way to cash it in. Perhaps, make the next single a more commercial one, or push Waje beyond comfort into an experimental zone. Either way, something has to give. People won’t, except Waje makes them.